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Katherine Hennessey

A recent work of theatre from Oman, Aḥmad al-Izkī’s al-Layla al-Ḥālika (The Dark Night, 2010), weaves together themes and characters from Shakespeare’s Othello and the pre-Islamic epic ‘Antara Ibn Shaddād, imagining a series of encounters which ultimately allow the protagonists to escape the tragic ending of Shakespeare’s play. This article argues that this juxtaposition performs a clever and well-placed intervention in ongoing socio-political debates on the Arabian Peninsula surrounding issues of identity, citizenship and political participation, and that the play argues for inclusivity and tolerance in the face of deep-seated racism and rising sectarianism. Furthermore, while al-Izkī’s script provides a happy ending, the 2010 production directed by ‘Abd al-Ghafūr al-Balūshī suggested a darker warning against the continuing threat of political, ethnic and sectarian divisions across the Gulf, a warning that subsequent events have borne out.

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Katherine Hennessey and Margaret Litvin

When the first Critical Survey special issue on Arab Shakespeares (19, no. 3, Winter 2007) came out nearly a decade ago, the topic was a curiosity. There existed no up-to-date monograph in English on Arab theatre, let alone on Arab Shakespeare. Few Arabic plays had been translated into English. Few British or American theatregoers had seen a play in Arabic. In the then tiny but fast-growing field of international Shakespeare appropriation studies (now ‘Global Shakespeare’), there was a great post-9/11 hunger to know more about the Arab world but also a lingering prejudice that Arab interpretations of Shakespeare would necessarily be derivative or crude, purely local in value.